Wasteland 2 was a post-apocalyptic game with a wasteland that truly felt like one. A lot of it was empty. A lot of it was irradiated. The Canyon of Titan was one of its most heavily irradiated locations, surrounded by so many bright yellow warnings they looked like badges on a punk's jacket, but it was also one of the least empty. It buzzed with life and gamma rays. With Wasteland 3 on the way, there's no better slice of Wasteland 2 for inXile to use as a model for its new snowy post-apocalypse.
Titan's heavy radiation ensures you can't stumble into the Canyon at the start of the game. You need to get some wandering under your belt first, and also find a set of high-quality radiation suits for your squad of Desert Rangers. To get those you'll need to have followed a string of quests—repair a radio tower and investigate the murder of a fellow Ranger, choose to save either Highpool or the Ag Center, visit the Rail Nomads, and then explore a former prison turned into the bleak settlement of Happy Valley by Red Skorpion raiders.
You'll have probably done all that in the company of Angela Deth—yep, that's her real name, she's one of the PCs from the original Wasteland—a high-level gift of a squad member who immediately leaves your party once you arrive at the Canyon. A crackling radio message, fuzzy and full of radiation interference, calls her away on urgent business and leaves you and your batch of less competent Desert Rangers to stumble through the Canyon on your own.
With your moral compass and most competent party member gone you’re left to encounter the Canyon without guidance, free to be as responsible or monstrous as you please. Nobody will tell you that you’ve made the wrong choice here, because there are no wrong choices.
Between giant flowering cactuses and piles of scrap, the distinguishing feature of the Canyon is its craters. They've been left behind by the M.A.D Monks, a cult who worship nuclear weapons. Their god is called Titan, a leftover nuke from before the war, and they've gained control of the Canyon through what they call Titan's Peace (which everyone else calls Mutually Assured Destruction). They're like the Children of the Atom from Fallout 3, only with a bigger area of worship than the wimpy puddle at the bottom of Megaton.
To make it through the monk's checkpoints you have to agree to be accompanied by one of their escorts with a Nuka grenade strapped to his back. Since everyone else who wants to pass through has the same, whether trader or raider, the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction should keep the violence at a minimum—and yet those plentiful crater marks suggest otherwise.
If you choose to take an escort monk with you the Canyon's raiders won't attack and even become oddly polite. They'll let you rifle through their crates of gear, although the glowing nuclear goop some of them stockpile is another matter. Collecting some of that goop for a quest the monks give you requires either bargaining with the raiders, who will try to convince you it's a valuable tonic, or travelling to less hospitable corners of the canyon that are protected by angry mutant honey badgers.
While these non-violent meetings with raiders are a pleasant change of pace, Titan's Peace has its downsides. Several encounters play out in the Canyon in which suicide monks detonate their grenades and leave more of those craters. One attempts to protect his charge by running up to her attacker and detonating, but catches her in the blast. Though she survives, by the time you reach her she's begging for death. Meanwhile, two traders on a narrow path each refuse to move their pig-drawn carts and let the other pass, leading to an explosive confrontation and two dead traders. The stories of the Canyon go from bleak to ridiculous one moment to the next. The rest of Wasteland 2 is rarely as willing to poke fun even though it’s a game where the greatest treasures are hidden in toasters and you can recruit goats as allies.
There's another faction in the Canyon as well, one who is less in love with the Great Glow. The Diamondback Militia are organized and well-armed survivalists with a plan to take the Canyon for themselves, supplanting the monks and keeping a version of the peace that they say will lead to less death. It's possible to side with the DBM instead, but according to the water traders of the Canyon they're no better than raiders themselves, robbing the people they “rescue” and then abandoning them to die. Like the Red Skorpions of Happy Valley, their protection may come at a high cost.
Between these two factions and a variety of colorful encounters with other odd locals, the Canyon feels alive and full of incident in a way that much of Arizona doesn't. Wasteland 2's second half, set in Los Angeles, comes close to this level diversity with locations like Angel Core, where the polite but murderous Mannerites and the positive-thinking but power-mad Robbinsons are preparing to go to war over philosophies learned from pre-war self-help books. Unfortunately the second half of Wasteland 2 is also buggier and full of sidequests left hanging, never quite as satisfying as the Arizona half of the map.
The Canyon of Titan builds to a neater resolution. Whoever you side with, eventually you discover that Titan's Wrath is a lie. The nuclear weapon underneath the temple has no payload, and can never be detonated. However, the monks have found another nuke out at Silo 7 that does contain a payload and plan to recover it before their secret gets out. The DBM want this nuke as well, and the final choice over what to do with it comes down to you.
The untrustworthy fanatics or the untrustworthy paranoiacs, who should get the bomb? You can pull a “pox on both your houses” and try to disarm it yourself, but that has consequences too. Without the threat of Titan's Wrath what will hold back the raiders? And how will the faithful monks react to learning their gods can be killed? It's going to be a mess no matter what, it's simply a matter of choosing which kind of mess you'd rather clean up. It’s a moment where Wasteland 2 lived up to its reputation as a return to the complexity of the original Fallout games, where every situation had multiple solutions and you defined yourself by how you tackled them.
The Canyon of Titan tells a self-contained story in the middle of a game that sprawls a little too far. This one pocket of the setting is jammed with stuff. There's a vendor who will sell you the 3 Amigos costumes, buried treasure to be found, and a swarm of mutant gila monsters. In an optional area underneath the Temple of Titan it even hides a neat infiltration mission, the one place in Wasteland 2 where stealth feels like a valid option. Wasteland 3 is taking the series to the frozen north of Colorado where things will presumably be very different to the deserts of Arizona, but I hope there's room for more of these independent adventures that illustrate some of the stranger places post-apocalyptic storytelling can go.
A few extra exploding monks would be good too.